More than the movie itself, the audience for opening night of Wes Anderson’s ”Moonrise Kingdom” warmed my heart. The first screening was sold out and I had to wait for the second, which was also packed. Hurray! People are going to the movies! The crowd was old and young, exuding cheerfulness and smarts. Seniors and hipsters, families, couples on dates. As we waited, people chatted with one another about their love of Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, and Fantastic Mr Fox. (The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and The Brothers Darjeeling, not so much.) They were so jolly and innocent in their enthusiasm that by the time we got in I admit I was primed to despise the flick.
A couple of “emotionally disturbed” young teens meet at a Church pageant, become pen pals, and plot to run away together. He cuts a hole in his tent and absconds from a Boy Scout camping trip. She pinches her brother’s battery-operated turntable, pops her cat in a picnic basket, and takes to the woods. All the while a storm of biblical proportions is heading toward the New England Island. This is Wes Anderson, so it’s not really “1965,” not really “New England,” and there are not really any actual human beings involved. Every molecule is art directed to the nth degree. If you squint you can see in the background of any shot hundreds of thousands of perfect quirky props. This movie is a doily. This director is a Fascist of twee. If he could have knit himself a Bruce Willis from hair he’d sheared and carded and handspun into yarn from his own puppy, Anderson would have done it.
Some of his films work better than others: If the story he’s telling can survive the full-on submergence in quirk, like it does in Rushmore and Mr. Fox, then the dense interlacing of visual and aural puns can be enhancing, like extra froth on your cappuccino. If the tale’s a little thin it can be irritating, like somebody not only rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic but weaving them each a kicky throw pillow.
Where does this one rank? Well, how patient are you? It’s mega-cute! It’s uber-charming. The kids are lovable. The story has a rock-solid classic lovers-against-the-world narrative skeleton. If you can hang on to that while enjoying the witty props and costumes you’ll have a good time. There’s some gorgeous Benjamin Britten music and a zesty innocence to everything. However, If you get distracted by characters without inner life or understandable motivation, or bored when every potential conflict is snuffed out in seconds with a dose of good-natured whimsy, you might want to bring a book. Something by Dostoyevsky.
Anderson doesn’t seem to have an ounce of emotional intelligence or any feeling for social and historical context. He’s the aspergers-wunderkind of cinema. I, for one, am glad we have him. I’m patient. I crave things that are unique. I get enough raw reality day to day and see enough earnest turgid cinema, so I find it entirely pleasant to take a little trip on “It’s a Wes World After All.” I left the theatre with a smile on my face. The audience cheered when it was over and lingered in the lobby to parse every detail and map every reference. So I guess I’m not alone.
Although, as I was wading through puddles of hipsters listing every connection between the film’s heroine and Margo Tenenbaum, I found myself thinking of everything this approach leaves out. A thousand Boy Scouts and no sexual abuse? Emotionally disturbed children who don’t hurt each other or themselves? Cheating spouses who don’t damage their families? Tropical storms where nobody dies? On the way home in Toronto the headlines of the papers were screaming about the man who’s been mailing body parts to government officials—a troubled soul, a two-bit pornstar failed male model kitten torturer. This is what really happens when kids grow up disturbed by invalidating and dangerous environments. There’s nothing cute about it.
Nietzsche said that the three great stimulants of the exhausted ones were artifice, brutality, and innocence. When so much of the world is juicing themselves up with brutality (gory horror, CGI action smash ups, mean-spirited Reality TV, and outrage-milking political punditry), is it so wrong that Anderson is cornering the market on artifice and innocence? Oh, what the heck, pass me an embroidered throw for my sinking deckchair—thumbs up!